A catchment scale numerical model is developed based on the three-dimensional transient Richards equation describing fluid flow in variably saturated porous media. The model is designed to take advantage of digital elevation data bases and of information extracted from these data bases by topographic analysis. The practical application of the model is demonstrated in simulations of a small subcatchment of the Konza Prairie reserve near Manhattan, Kansas. In a preliminary investigation of computational issues related to model resolution, we obtain satisfactory numerical results using large aspect ratios, suggesting that horizontal grid dimensions may not be unreasonably constrained by the typically much smaller vertical length scale of a catchment and by vertical discretization requirements. Additional tests are needed to examine the effects of numerical constraints and parameter heterogeneity in determining acceptable grid aspect ratios. In other simulations we attempt to match the observed streamflow response of the catchment, and we point out the small contribution of the streamflow component to the overall water balance of the catchment.